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Lahore

June 10, 2017

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Police averse to magistracy restoration

LAHORE

A bill has been tabled at National Assembly’s Committee on Law & Justice for 29th Constitutional Amendment on May 15, 2017. The committee will start deliberations on the proposed amendment soon. According to the bill, also available at the website of National Assembly, a new article titled “211A Establishment of Executive Magistracy” will be inserted in the Constitution. The content of proposed article reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution, the federal government or a provincial government may, by law establish Executive Magistracy for certain specified purposes, including control of law and order”.

The Statement of Objects and Reasons regarding Article 211A states, “It has been observed that functioning of local administration and enforcement of local and special laws has been seriously impaired in the absence of Executive Magistracy. 

The unusual move ahead of election year has caused uproar among police officers, members of bar and bench and civil society. The stakeholders have termed the move against the spirit of basic human rights, the rule of law, independence of judiciary and against the basic structure of Constitution. They said the world has been moving towards specialisation and autonomy but the country’s bureaucracy is insistent to imposing magistracy once again. A senior police officer said that vesting of judicial powers in the hands of executive will turn police officers ‘clerks’- pawns in the hands of bureaucracy and politicians. 

Under the system, district magistrate will write ACR of police officers. “We will resist it, even at the cost of our jobs. We hope that the bill will be rejected during initial deliberations but if it is taken to the next steps for approval, they will launch a country-wide movement against it. Another officer termed the step conspiracy by ‘bureaucracy’ that is dying its own death to subordinate them (police) to rejuvenate their lost power and space during last one and a half decade, in state-structure. Sharing the background that paved path for consideration of a Constitutional Amendment for revision of executive magistracy, he said the governments of three provinces had faced problems on appointment of IGs of their choice; issue of AD Khawaja in Sindh, Amendment to Police Order 2002 by the Punjab government and the changes in KP Police Order 2017 few months back. Criticising concept of “executive magistracy”, he said it was a colonial construct. The system had been abolished in other parts of the world, including India and Bangladesh rather they have adopted police commissioner system. It was highly unfortunate that democratically elected governments wanted to revise it. The step, with a single stroke of pen, would ruin democratic values that were enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan after decades of struggle by political parties, civil society, bar and other democratic voices. 

Sharing about flaws in the draft of the Constitutional Amendment he said it was in contradiction with Article 175(iii)- judiciary must be separated from executive within 10 years, Article 10-A (right to fair trial).  However, police officers are of the view that they are willing for ‘democratic oversight’. We will never give in for bureaucratic oversight. Policing is a highly specialised job and it should not be influenced by bureaucrats.  Empowerment of police after promulgation of Police Order (2002) yielded better results as compared to the previous system. Talking about need for good governance he said there are so many departments under the supervision of bureaucracy. They have health, education, municipality, prisons etc. Can they present any single example of “Excellence” in the above-mentioned departments?

So far as coordination is concerned, DC is the coordinator of key committees. He is the coordinator of price committee, peace committee and district intelligence committee. He enjoyed sole powers to put suspects under fourth schedule and imposition of Section 144. 

So far as accountability was concerned, police department was the most accountable. He said they demanded democratic oversight through different bodies in Police Order like National, Provincial, District Commissions and police-public complaint authorities. It was ‘bureaucracy and political governments that created hurdles in the establishment of these fora, the officer alleged. 

Besides, different commissions and complaint authorities in police order, police are answerable to judiciary on daily basis, Muhtasib, anti-corruption, NAB and Cabinet Committee on law and order. Police have a strong system of internal departmental accountability. 

The bureaucrats on the other hand argue that the Executive Magistracy system is necessary for current prevailing issues like good governance in the wake of CPEC. They added it will also help in improving coordination between police, bureaucracy and other departments. The magistracy system would also help in developing an oversight on police.

A senior DMG official; however, contended that a dictator pulled police out of the magisterial purview through an order overnight which has caused governance issues. 

The official said it is very easy to cite India as an example, but that is a false analogy when we compare the ground realities of the two countries. India never got off the path of democracy and saw evolution in all departments and institutions. In Pakistan, on the contrary, martial laws thwarted evolution and the country witnessed stunted growth and degradation in all spheres of national life. 

Given the crises, like terrorism, facing the country, the principle of unity of command and control at district level needed to be upheld besides de-politicisation of police and administration, hence necessitating the need for revival of magistracy, he added.

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